2-22-2005

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Title: Omission
Author: Calic0cat <calic0cat@fastmail.fm>
Story Revised: September 15, 2004
Genre: Yaoi
Pairings: 2+1, 1xR and 1x2 (in chronological order); also mention of 6xD and 5+9
Rated: R
Warnings: Swearing, Lime/Lemon, Angst
Archives: At http://calic0cat.freeservers.com/ (my site) and at Mediaminer.org under Calic0cat. Anyone who has permission to host my other fics, help yourselves.
Disclaimer: Duo and Heero and the rest of the GW gang aren't mine. This story is. Nuff said.

Notes: Duo POV.

*** Time passing/scene change

Author's Notes: This was my entry for the 2004 GWA Angst Contest, so fair warning to readers used to my usual style - unrelieved angst ahead, folks. Sequel to follow. Feedback is appreciated.

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"...only one he'll listen to. You'll come talk some sense into him, won't you Duo? Please? Just let me know when to expect you, okay? Thank you, Duo. I'll be expecting your call."

I swore, then rewound the answering machine and listened to Relena's message again. This made the fourth time in six months that she'd called begging me to "come talk some sense into Heero". Dammit, they'd been married less than three years and I'd been playing marriage counsellor for them for virtually that entire time. I'd warned them both back when they got engaged that they'd better make sure they'd really thought this through and what good did it do? None.

Relena just expected too damn much of Heero. She'd had this idiotic idea that the end of the war would just make all of his issues go away. That he would suddenly become friendly and outgoing and affectionate and - well, the "perfect boyfriend". And when that hadn't happened, she'd decided that it was because he needed the stability and normality of marriage. So, on her eighteenth birthday, she'd taken care of that problem. She and Heero had gotten married and - surprise, surprise - he hadn't become the "perfect husband". Nothing magically changed.

Well, not for the better anyway. In some ways, things were even worse. Relena had been determined to wait until they were married to have sex. Fine, that was her business and I had no problem with it. What I *did* have a problem with was the fact that in the middle of their honeymoon, I was suddenly getting phone calls from the new Mrs. Yuy begging me to "talk to Heero". I kind of suspected that Relena had made a bunch of thoroughly inaccurate assumptions about the nature of my own relationship with Hilde considering exactly what she wanted me to talk to Heero *about*. In the end, I'd joined them in the Caribbean and finally gotten things straightened out. Well, some things anyway.

It had turned out that it was impossible for Heero to share a bed with Relena - she was a restless sleeper and sooner or later she would flop an arm or something over him and he would have her pinned in a chokehold before he was even awake. I couldn't quite figure that one out since Heero and I had shared a bed several times during the war and I'm a terrible cuddler yet Heero had never attacked *me* in his sleep. Anyway, we'd finally given up on Heero getting used to Relena's sleeping habits and for the sake of Relena's safety and Heero's peace of mind had decided that the two of them had better do all of their actual sleeping in separate beds.

Though I'd ended up with a serious case of Too Much Information regarding the *other* things that took place in bed together. Either Relena was damn picky or Heero was - less than interested. That was when I'd found them the name of a nice marital counsellor and gotten the hell out of Dodge, relieved at my narrow escape.

Except that Heero wouldn't talk to the man. Which left Relena on the phone to *me* again, and me piloting a courier run to Earth so that I could go "talk some sense into Heero". I *had* finally persuaded Heero to go along with the whole thing but it hadn't done much good as far as I could tell. After months of counselling, Relena had decided that all the problems they were having were caused by the fact that Heero hadn't really left the war behind since he was in the Preventers.

None of it could possibly be *her* fault, of course.

So she'd badgered Heero into resigning. That had been about a year ago. And of course, now Relena was complaining because Heero wasn't "better" yet. And of course, as Heero's best friend, surely I could "talk some sense into him".

What Relena apparently hadn't figured out yet was that I spent at least as much time talking to *her* when I made these trips as I did talking to Heero. That I spent a substantial part of my visit persuading her into lowering her expectations. Into settling for what Heero was capable of giving her instead of expecting something straight out of a fairytale or a really bad romance novel.

Then I'd spend the rest of my time just taking Heero off on long hikes and so on to get him away from the pressure for a while. Letting Heero be his usual taciturn self, only talking if and when he felt like it, secure in the knowledge that I wouldn't get mad or insulted because he was being so silent. Then we'd go rock climbing or hang-gliding or do something else that combined physical exertion with the thrill of danger to help fill the void left by a peacetime existence.

But I wasn't sure how much longer I could keep this up. Hilde had been terrific about taking over for me - handling calls and scheduling courier runs - when I had to leave my business to go bail Heero's marriage out again, but she had her own business to run and now that it was becoming more successful she really didn't have the time to look after mine as well.

And it was getting too damn hard for me to handle the whole thing anyway. I had my own issues about the whole mess and I was having an increasingly difficult time persuading myself that Heero and Relena really had something worth patching up yet again.

Heero had genuinely loved Relena at the start, I was pretty sure of that. I wasn't too sure that Heero had loved her in a romantic way, however, and from what I'd heard before and was still, unfortunately and embarrassingly, hearing now, Heero wasn't particularly in lust with her either. Which wasn't helping matters any. Relena was gradually moving from "disappointed" to "disparaging" in her comments on the subject and I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with the way she talked. And it was getting damn hard to draw Heero back out of his shell. Relena was apparently somewhat less than diplomatic in the way she - discussed things - with him at this point and every little bit of confidence that Heero had in himself as a husband, as a lover, as a *person* was being steadily eroded. I could at least shore the "person" part back up again so far but it was becoming increasingly difficult.

And my own feelings for Heero, feelings that I'd quite deliberately buried years ago then buried even deeper when Heero and Relena got engaged, were beginning to interfere. If Heero had been happy, I probably could have kept them buried. Kept being Heero's best friend and nothing more.

But Heero wasn't happy. Heero was fucking miserable. And I was beginning to really hate the fact that I was helping to keep Heero *in* that situation.

At first, I'd hoped that Relena would learn to compromise. Heero cared for her and had chosen to marry her; Relena loved Heero and was ecstatic to be married to him. Surely they could work things out, right?

Wrong.

In the beginning, Heero had genuinely tried to be the attentive, demonstrative, affectionate husband that she wanted him to be. It wasn't easy for him and he wasn't very good at it but he *did* try. If Relena had accepted those attempts, I was pretty sure that Heero would have gradually gotten better at it. But Relena hadn't. Instead, she'd found fault with every little thing that Heero did *wrong* instead of being happy with the things that he did *right*. And now, I suspected that Heero had pretty much stopped trying. He'd finally figured out that Relena was virtually impossible to satisfy. She set standards that simply couldn't be met.

No wonder Zechs and Dorothy had packed up and moved to Mars to live under very, very primitive conditions rather than continue to share the Sanc palace with her.

Though I had to admit that Relena applied the same exacting standards to herself. Drove herself just as mercilessly. Criticized her own mistakes just as harshly.

But that was precisely what made her and Heero such a bad match. They were both perfectionists and what they really needed was someone to balance them out, not a mate with the same critical tendencies. Though Heero didn't feel the need to constantly criticize Relena, only himself. His training had left him hypersensitive to any suggestion of failure, any hint of a mistake on his part. He found plenty of things to beat himself up over; he really didn't require Relena's constant harping on top of that.

I sighed heavily and reached for the phone. One last time. I would get Hilde to keep an eye on my business while I was gone just one more time then I would ride along with the next scheduled courier run to Earth. That much I knew. What I was going to do when I got there however...

Well, I was going to have to think about that.

***

"Alright. I'm here one last time. But this is *it*. I have a business to run and I can't keep begging friends to look after it for me while I run off to try and patch up your marriage yet again," I warned grimly, glancing back and forth between Heero and Relena.

Relena looked decidedly taken aback by my cautionary words. I caught a tiny flicker of something - hurt? disappointment? - in Heero's eyes before they went blank again. I made a mental note to be sure to explain to Heero that I would always be there for *him* but that I just couldn't be their marital mediator anymore. "I don't even want to know what the problem is this time. Unless it's something completely new?"

Sheepish looks and uncomfortable shifting indicated that it was not. I nodded in acknowledgement, "Thought so. Look, as far as I can see you two have a real simple decision to make here. Either you love each other enough to start making genuine compromises or you call it quits. A few bumps on the road to wedded happiness may be perfectly normal but almost three years of nothing but potholes is *not*. Think about it. Both of you." Advice I would have given them a long time ago if I hadn't been so worried about letting the fact that I was in love with Heero influence me into encouraging their breakup. But the simple fact was that if they had been any other couple, I'd have advised them to call it quits and washed my hands of the mess months ago.

"In the meantime, get your things packed Heero, we're going to Howard's place in Hawaii for some windsurfing and parasailing for the next week. Relena, that gives you a chance to cool down and think about things while we're gone." Despite the stunned look on her face, Relena nodded in agreement while Heero simply turned and left, presumably to get packed. I suppressed the urge to frown knowing that if I did Relena would launch into a tirade regarding Heero's rude - to her mind - behaviour.

The urge to frown had nothing to do with Heero behaving rudely though, it was entirely directed at the fact that Heero seemed even more withdrawn and unhappy than the last time I'd been summoned. And Heero leaving without a word had nothing to do with being rude and everything to do with the fact that no verbal response was "necessary"; his departure to pack was an answer in and of itself. I knew that and understood it. After nearly three years of marriage, so should Relena. But she still didn't *know* Heero at all.

And that, of course, was why their marriage was doomed from the start. Because Relena was in love with an ideal that she'd created around Heero, not the real Heero. And she'd done nothing but try to change him to fit that ideal ever since they first met. Why the hell should he have to do all the changing?

I cut off my train of thought sharply. I'd been over that with Relena before and it had gotten me absolutely nowhere. She just didn't understand that the fact that Heero behaved differently didn't automatically mean that he was wrong and needed to change. And after all the times I'd tried to make things better and failed, I wasn't going to waste the effort this time. They either settled this themselves or called it quits. I was through playing mediator.

"Look Relena, you two are both miserable right now. Think about that this week, okay? Are you happier when you're together or when you're not?" I held up my hand as she opened her mouth. "No, don't tell me and don't make a snap decision about it. You need to really think about this. It's something *you* need to figure out *for yourself*. But be honest with yourself about this. Do you really love and want Heero - just as he is, personality, issues, and all - or do you love the person you *want* him to be? 'Cause if it's the latter, you're being damn unfair to both of you by pretending otherwise. If you're not sure what the difference is, call Noin and talk to her. She and Zechs went through this too, remember. They just managed to figure things out before they actually tied the knot. And Zechs ended up quite happily with Dorothy while Noin and Wufei are getting damn close to setting the date themselves."

Shaking my head, I waved a cautionary finger at Relena as she tried to speak again. "Just - think about it, please, Relena. Heero's my best friend and I really don't like seeing him so fucking miserable all the time. And I don't much like seeing *you* miserable either. After how damn hard we all worked to earn peace it doesn't seem right that some of us aren't enjoying it."

All of which was the absolute truth. Relena might not be my favourite person in the universe but she *was* a sort-of friend and I didn't really like seeing her unhappy. Especially not when that meant Heero was absolutely miserable. I just hoped that the unhappy but pensive look on her face meant that I'd finally gotten through to her. Though it *could* also be in response to the amount of swearing I'd been doing; I was usually more careful around Relena but I was too worked up over this to watch my language.

I wasn't sure what would happen if I had actually gotten through to Relena, whether she would decide to compromise or to let Heero go, nor was I certain what Heero's decision would be. And in the long run, if they ended up happy, well, I could live with it either way. It wasn't like Heero and Relena breaking up would automatically mean that Heero would end up falling in love with *me* after all.

In fact, I'd sworn never to try to win Heero a very long time ago. Right after Heero told me how important my friendship was and asked me never to change. To promise to always be his friend. That had happened at the hospital when Heero woke up after collapsing following the defeat of Mariemaia's troops. Heero had woken to find me watching over his bed and he had apologized - in an admittedly roundabout fashion - for the way he'd handled things on the colony, for punching me so hard, then had rather awkwardly thanked me for always being his reliable friend. For being the one person that he could always count on, the one person that he could trust.

And then Heero had asked me never to change.

His request had beaten my confession of love, a love that I'd been forced to face as I watched Wing Zero disintegrating during Heero's attack on the shielded palace, by mere moments. Faced with his earnest albeit somewhat awkward request, only one course of action had been acceptable. If my friendship meant that much to him, I couldn't risk messing it up. So I had choked back my own intended confession, had managed to smile and give Heero the promise he needed, then had sat and guarded Heero's sleep while burying my feelings as deeply as I could.

Lately, faced with Heero's increasing unhappiness in his marriage, that hadn't been nearly deep enough. But I was hoping that if Relena and Heero managed to settle things one way or the other, Heero would stop being so damn miserable and I would be able to bury those feelings again. Would be able to keep being Heero's best friend, constant and unchanging.

No matter how difficult that might be.

***

I flopped down under the shade of the beach umbrella while Heero took the towel laying in the sun. I would have rather basked in the sunlight myself but I'd gotten enough sun exposure while windsurfing and I didn't want a sunburn. Sometimes I really envied Heero with his slightly darker skin tone.

Stretching out in the shade, I watched the other people out enjoying the beach and ocean for a while. Just relaxed and quietly enjoyed Heero's company.

He hadn't talked about his marriage or Relena at all so far. Hadn't said much of anything yet in fact and I was starting to wonder whether maybe a week wasn't going to be long enough to draw Heero out this time. Or if maybe he was just avoiding talking because of what I'd said about not being their marital counsellor anymore.

Rolling over so that I could watch his expression, I offered, "Heero, if there's anything you want to talk about, go ahead. I might not be willing to get involved and patch things up for you but I'll always listen, buddy. Just because I'm not prepared to keep fixing things up between you and Relena, that doesn't mean that I won't always be here for *you*. I just - don't think that my patch jobs on your marriage are doing anybody any favours anymore. They don't solve anything in the long run and you're absolutely miserable most of the time."

I was pretty sure that it was relief that flickered across Heero's face when I promised that I would always be willing to listen and that I would always be there for him. I settled down to wait, knowing that *if* Heero decided that he was ready to talk, it would probably be a while before he started. So I was surprised when Heero began speaking almost immediately.

"I don't know what to do. Lately I can't seem to do *anything* right. And now she's suddenly decided that she wants kids and I... I don't know if I *do*. I *used* to but - well, she seems to think that having a baby will just magically fix everything and that seems like a damn dumb idea to me. Me quitting the Preventers was supposed to do that and I think that if anything it made things *worse*.

"She doesn't want me to get another job; says that I shouldn't take one away from someone who actually needs one. After all, *she* has more than enough money to support us both. And when I talked about going back to school, she jumped all over *that* idea too, saying that I couldn't do that because it would take too much of my time and I needed to be available to go places with her on a moment's notice. Have to show my support for my wife's political ambitions, after all...

"I *hate* this! I hate having nothing to do other than be 'Relena Darlian's husband'. Hate being a kept man. Hate being paraded around on her arm at political functions and society parties. Hate being continually told that I was rude to Ambassador So-and-So and that I humiliated her in front of Lady Such-and-Such. That I'm a terrible dancer, a terrible conversationalist, a terrible listener, a terrible husband, a terrible lover. That's what made her call you again; I refused to even try. How the hell does she expect me to make love to her when she's providing a running commentary of my shortcomings? Too rough, too tentative, too fast, too slow, not enough foreplay, not enough passion, not enough tenderness; I just can't please her!"

I winced at the despairing misery in Heero's voice and tried not to gape in shock at the unexpected flood of information that he was offering. He was obviously at the end of his rope. I clamped down hard on the part of me that wanted to tell Heero that none of those things would bother me, the part of me that wanted to shore up Heero's sense of worth as a lover as well as his worth as a person. The part of me that wanted to forget that Heero was married, forget that I had promised him that I would never change, that I would always be hisbest friend, forget that I had promised *myself* that I would never look for more than friendship from Heero.

"And the worst thing is - I don't know if I even *want* to please her anymore..." Heero admitted in a defeated whisper. "But I can't just quit, admit that I've failed. That I really am a terrible husband and I don't want to do this anymore. That marrying her was a mistake in the first place. And if I *did*, what then? Une made it clear when I quit that she wouldn't take me back again. Who the hell else is going to hire Relena Darlian's ex who also happens to be an ex-Gundam pilot?"

Relieved at being asked a question that I could actually answer, I reached over and smacked Heero's arm. "Idiot. How about another ex-Gundam pilot? Q would hire you in a heartbeat and so would I.

"I'm not trying to sway you Heero, this has to be your decision and yours alone. I'll ask you the same thing I did Relena, are you happier when you're together or when you're not? I don't need to know the answer to that but *you* do. So think about it. No matter what you decide, I'll stand behind you Heero. You know that; that's what friends are for."

The soft "Thank you" from Heero was all the answer that I needed.

***

I sighed in a mixture of relief and disappointment as I finished checking my personal messages. There were plenty of them - I'd been gone piloting one of my regular courier runs for a few days after all - but nothing from either Heero or Relena.

It had been over three months since my last trip earthside to talk to Heero, and I hadn't had another call for help from Relena so far. Heero had sent me a few email messages but, other than one brief mention that he and Relena were seeing a marriage counsellor again, they had completely avoided any mention of Relena. I had to admit that I couldn't judge Heero's current state of happiness from them at all. Which in itself was probably not a particularly positive sign since it likely indicated that he was shutting down emotionally again. Locking his feelings back up behind that damn impassive mask. I'd have to do something about that. I had that long run out to Mars coming up again - maybe I should take it myself; invite Heero to come up for a visit and go along for the ride. It would give him a bit of a break anyway...

My thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the insistent ringing of the doorbell. "Who the hell would that be at this time of night..." I muttered under my breath as I made my way to the door. A quick peek through the peephole answered my question and in an instant I had the door open. "Heero?! What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you, buddy. Come on in..." I gaped for an instant at the piles of bags on my doorstep before snatching several up and carrying them in. It took another trip each for Heero and me to get all of the luggage brought inside.

Under the circumstances, I wasn't particularly surprised by what Heero finally did say once we had everything inside and tucked away in the guestroom. "It's over. Divorce proceedings were started yesterday. I - you said I was always welcome and I didn't have anywhere else to go..."

"Of course you're always welcome buddy. You wanna talk about it?" I asked. I really thought that if Relena and Heero *still* hadn't been able to work things out they were better off calling it quits but I knew that Heero had to be hurting. Even if he wasn't exactly in love or in lust with Relena, giving up on their marriage was an admission of failure. And Heero didn't handle failure too well.

Heero shook his head, "Not right now. Right now I just want to sleep; I went home - to the estate - and packed right after I left the lawyer's office and then I sat in the spaceport waiting for a standby seat to become available. And I didn't sleep much the night before either..."

No, he wouldn't have. He would have spent the whole night going over every minute of his marriage and finding every little thing that he'd ever done "wrong" and trying to figure out how he could have prevented this "failure". I stifled the urge to sigh and simply gave Heero a friendly pat on the back. "Go on to bed then Heero. If I'm gone before you get up in the morning, just make yourself at home. I'll leave a key on the kitchen table in case you want to go out for a while. I should be home around six unless something unexpected comes up. 'Kay?"

Heero's silent nod was the only response I needed. I left the room and pulled the door shut behind me, crossed the hall to my own room and closed that door too, sagging back against it once it was shut.

Shit this was going to be tough. I tilted my head back, repeatedly but quietly thumping it against the door behind me. How the hell was I going to stay Heero's constant, supportive best friend now that he was living with me?

Sighing, I pushed myself away from the door, squaring my shoulders with determination. Willpower, Maxwell. Lots and lots of willpower...

***

After a couple of months of having Heero as a housemate, willpower just wasn't cutting it. And if I took any more cold showers I was going to turn into a goddamn popsicle.

I hurriedly averted my eyes from the scantily towel-clad figure emerging from the bathroom. If I didn't know better, I'd almost believe that Heero was doing this on purpose. Wearing provocative clothing and walking around in a state of virtual undress the way that he had been for the past few weeks. But Heero knew that I appreciated the male form considerably more than the female; he wouldn't be so cruel as to tease me like that.

Or would he? I knew that Relena had done a real hatchet job on his confidence in a lot of areas, including sex. Maybe he was just looking for a little safe admiration, figuring that I would look but not touch? God, I hoped not. If he kept flaunting that gorgeous bod of his in front of me, I was going to end up saying or doing something I really shouldn't...

Climbing into the shower, I bit my tongue as an icy blast hit me. Cold showers. Lots and lots of cold showers...

***

Shit. I dragged my gaze away from Heero and forced it back to the task of washing my car. I no longer had any real doubt that Heero *was* doing this on purpose. Those cutoff jean shorts had *not* been that short when he'd worn them shortly after moving in. They'd had at least three inches hacked off of them and were now indecently short. What I couldn't figure out was what the hell I should do. Confront Heero and ask him to please stop teasing me? Keep pretending not to notice? Or go ahead and openly ogle him?

Between the fact that Heero was still married - apparently the decision to divorce hadn't been quite as mutual as Heero had implied and Relena was proving to be a real bitch over the whole thing, thus slowing the divorce proceedings down rather drastically - and the promises I'd made regarding always being Heero's friend and not changing, I was having a real problem with making a decision regarding how to handle this.

Tossing the chamois back into the bucket, I coiled up the hose and put it out of the way. Meanwhile, Heero was finishing polishing the streaks off of the windows and those damn shorts were riding *awfully* high as he leaned to reach the centre of the windshield. Yanking my eyes up to head-level again, I managed to keep my tone even as I said, "Good enough, Heero. Let's go in and watch some movies or something for a while." I winced as Heero froze for a moment before straightening up. There was a definite discouraged slump to his shoulders.

But I *couldn't* give in... He was still a married man for god's sake! And if I was just somebody safe to do a little flirting with - god, it would tear me apart if I gave in to him and he moved on once I'd built his confidence back up...

The marriage issue - well, time would solve that. And the promise part of the problem - well, I finally decided that if Heero was the one trying to start something, I wouldn't be breaking any of my promises about always being Heero's friend and not changing. Hell, I'd already been in love with Heero when I *made* those promises so it wasn't as if I *would* be changing. But it was tough enough being around Heero as his friend and nothing more now; if I let myself give in and at least flirt and show my attraction things were going to be even more difficult. I didn't think that I could handle a rebound affair and I was very much afraid that was all Heero was really looking for.

***

The kiss caught me completely by surprise. One minute Heero and I were sitting on the couch watching a movie. The next, Heero had me pinned in place and was kissing me with a frantic desperation that made my heart ache. It hurt like hell to do it but I forced myself to simply stay still and unresponsive. If anything was going to happen between us, it was *not* going to be like this. I had no real idea what the hell was going through Heero's head but I was *not* going to be a nice safe fling on the rebound. I had heard the - conversation - between Relena and Heero on the phone this morning and strongly suspected that all of *this* had a great deal to do with her snide and disparaging remarks regarding Heero's ability - or lack thereof - as a lover.

But when Heero finally gave up and pulled away with a discouraged apology, I couldn't stand the broken look of defeat on his face. I might end up in bloody little shreds myself when this was all over with but I couldn't refuse Heero entirely. Couldn't leave him thinking that I wasn't attracted to him; that he wasn't desirable.

I reached out and caught Heero's wrist before he could walk away. "Heero - I take marriage very seriously and you're still a married man. If you still want this when your divorce is final..." The startled look of hope in Heero's eyes gave me the nerve to finish my offer, "Try again. I guarantee the outcome will be different." I released his wrist as he nodded in silent response.

Oh god... I wasn't sure whether to hope that Heero would change his mind by then or not. If he didn't - well, it could be the first step towards a new kind of relationship together... or the first step onto the slippery slope towards a broken heart.

***

From the moment that I stepped inside the front door, I knew that something was different. There was a feeling of expectancy, of anticipation, in the air. All of it coming from the blue-eyed man waiting for me. The envelope in Heero's white-knuckled grasp could only be one thing.

I swallowed hard then forced myself to meet Heero's eyes. "Do I even need to ask what that is?"

Heero shook his head slightly. "No... You said... once the divorce was final..."

I closed my eyes for a moment. Truth time. Shit, I was *not* ready for this. Reopening them, I met Heero's anxious gaze. "Yeah, I did. Just - if you still want to, there's a couple of things we need to talk about first, okay?" Like the fact that he could break me into little tiny pieces if we did this and it didn't mean anything beyond building up his confidence with somebody safe, somebody he trusted... I winced as Heero's face went blank, the old impassive mask descending. "Come on, let's go sit on the couch for a minute." I would have liked to go take a shower and freshen up, get my thoughts organized. But I couldn't leave Heero in limbo for that long, even the tiny bit of hesitation I'd shown so far had Heero starting to shut down again.

Once we were settled on the couch, I began, "Okay - first things first here. I don't know how much experience you think I've had but uh - well, frankly it's non-existent. I've never..." Damn, this was harder to say than I'd thought it would be... I took a deep breath and blurted out, "I've never actually gone all the way with anyone, male or female. No actual - umm, intercourse." I could feel the heat in my cheeks and Heero's stunned look wasn't helping matters any. "I've never been involved with anyone that I cared enough about to be willing to take things that far."

"You mean you're..."

"Yes, dammit, I'm a virgin. Both ways." I thought I was going to spontaneously combust. And I wasn't done embarrassing myself yet.

I'd considered just going ahead with this without confessing my feelings to Heero. But that wouldn't be right. Sooner or later I'd end up letting something slip and Heero finding out at that point that I was in love with him might really wreck things since it would probably also come out that I'd *been* in love with him since before we ever became lovers. And since I was pretty sure that the main reason Heero was even interested in me was because he trusted me... I really couldn't afford even a lie of omission at this point. Or rather, I couldn't afford to continue with the lie of omission that already lay between us.

"The only damn person I wanted married someone else and even before that I'd made a damn fool promise not to change. To always be his friend." I gulped as Heero's stunned look started to change to one of shock. "At the time I thought that meant I couldn't ever be *more* than just a friend so I didn't tell him how I really felt. That I was in love with him. So I did my best to just keep being his friend and to help him in any way I could no matter how difficult it was at times." I picked up speed as I spoke, words running together as I stumbled over my explanation. "And I still will. If he - if you really want this after what I've said then I'll do it both because you want it and because it's something that I've wanted for one hell of a long time but you have to understand that you could tear me apart so damn easily if this doesn't mean anything more to you than a way to build up your confidence with somebody safe." I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the look on Heero's face as I finished in a wobbly voice, "Because I'm in love with you Heero."

Silence. Complete and utter silence save the sound of my own ragged breathing and Heero's equally uneven respiration. I could feel myself starting to shake. "Not good, not good, not good..." ran through my mind in a constant refrain accompanied by a counterpoint of "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit..." I clenched my fists in an attempt to stop the tremors running through me. Heero was taking too long to respond. That could *not* be a good sign. I kept my eyes tightly closed. I didn't want to see the look of betrayal and distrust that I was very much afraid would be on Heero's face.

Finally, a harsh voice rasped out, "How long?"

I moistened my lips and whispered, "I was going to tell you when you woke up in the hospital that time but you started talking first and then - I couldn't... You talked about how important our friendship was, how you relied on the fact that I never changed, was always there as your friend... You asked me to promise..." I flinched but stubbornly kept my eyes shut as something - Heero's fist, I suspected - crashed down on the coffee table beside the couch.

"Dammit Duo, why the hell didn't you say something since then? While Relena was busy cutting me down and making me feel worthless and unlovable?"

"Because you were *married*!" I shouted back, finally opening my eyes. "You'd cared about her enough to make that commitment and I sure as hell wasn't going to do anything to interfere with that! If anything was going to make you two finally call it quits it damn well wasn't going to be me! But I couldn't stand seeing you so fucking miserable anymore and that's why I finally refused to keep helping patch things up between you. I felt like I was helping to *keep* you miserable. But the decision to give up on the marriage had to be *yours*. And I *still* wouldn't have told you I loved you if you hadn't wanted..." My words were cut off as Heero crushed our mouths together, nipping sharply and painfully at my lips when I was too slow in parting them.

I yielded, not wanting to turn this into a battle. There was far more anger in Heero's passion than I liked as it was but I had to admit that it was justified. I should have confessed my feelings before; shouldn't have hidden them in the first place. Definitely shouldn't have let myself be dragged into the role of mediator in Heero and Relena's marriage. My intentions had been good but the whole damn thing had been one lie after another. And lying never worked out for the best. It always had consequences.

If those consequences meant that my first and possibly only time with Heero was going to be rather rough - so be it. Better that than nothing.

But once I yielded, Heero's kiss softened, tongue apologetically caressing my bitten lips. Bruisingly tight fingers loosened their hold on my shoulders and stroked along my collarbone. And when a few minutes later Heero lifted me from the couch and started down the hall, I didn't protest. I would take whatever he gave me and hope for the best.

Hope that Heero wanted more than a brief affair. That I wouldn't be left to pick up the broken pieces of my heart when this ended.

***

That first night was not the stuff that dreams are made of. Not by a long shot.

We were both in too much of a rush. Too caught up in a mix of anger and regret and long-denied lust. Combined with our mutual lack of experience... Well, things could have went a lot better. We were just lucky that they didn't go a hell of a lot worse.

I wasn't prepared nearly enough and we didn't use lube. Oh sure, I knew in theory what we were supposed to do but the heat of the moment and my hesitation to do or say anything to break the mood and maybe make Heero change his mind kept me silent. And Heero - well, he was used to sex with a woman, not a man. While he knew that *something* was needed for lubrication, he didn't realize that spit and precum really wasn't sufficient, especially not for a first time.

It hurt like hell but I simply ignored the pain, determined to have at least this one time with Heero. And it wasn't all unpleasant - there was pleasure albeit not quite enough to blot out the memory of the pain. I still figured that it was worth it, at least in the afterglow. Heero kissed me and held me until I fell asleep which let me hope that maybe things would work out okay in the end.

But Heero went back to his own bed after I fell asleep. I should've expected that - I mean, he hadn't shared a bed with his wife either - but it still sucked to wake up alone, not knowing what last night had meant to him, feeling a hell of a lot like a cheap one-night stand, and hurting physically as well as emotionally. I stripped the bed and dumped the sheets in the hall, planning to toss them in the wash once I finished my own cleanup.

Heero got to them first. He picked them up, found blood, and freaked. He burst into the bathroom and literally dragged me out of the shower and off to the hospital despite my protests that I was okay. And I was, really. The tearing wasn't bad enough to require stitches or anything. The emergency room doctor just gave us a handful of pamphlets along with a stern and embarrassingly thorough lecture on the realities of anal sex before handing over a prescription for an antibiotic cream to help prevent infection and aid in healing. And, of course, I was forbidden to engage in receptive intercourse for at least a couple of weeks while I healed.

Not that it mattered. The real damage was to whatever the hell it was that had so briefly seemed to exist between Heero and me. He was polite and distant and totally withdrawn. For the first time in years, I was completely unable to read him; it was like living with a damn automaton.

I didn't know what to think, whether I'd messed up things between us too badly for him to want anything more to do with me or whether he was blaming himself for hurting me and was unwilling to take the chance of it happening again. I was afraid to push the subject, afraid that in so doing I'd end up driving him out of my life entirely. As long as he was still there, living in my guestroom and working for my company, I could at least hope that maybe someday I'd earn back his friendship if nothing else.

***

It took weeks to get Heero to so much as touch me again and then it was by accident rather than design.

I was chopping vegetables for stir fry while Heero set the table. My attention wasn't entirely on the task and I got a little careless with the chopping knife. "Fuck!" I wasn't sure how badly I'd cut myself but there seemed to be rather a lot of blood. Great, with my damn luck I'd probably nicked an artery. I dropped the knife and grabbed for a towel to apply pressure. A bright red stain started to spread through the cloth pretty quickly. Yep, I must've nicked an artery. "Shit, shit, shit..." Hopefully it wasn't too deep to quit bleeding on its own; I was *not* in the mood for a trip to emergency.

Strong hands grabbed my shoulders and turned me around abruptly. "Let me see!" Heero took one look at the reddening towel and had me out of the house and on the way to the damn emergency clinic before I had a chance to protest. And when I would have protested during the ride there, I remembered that instant that Heero had demanded to see my hand, remembered the concern in his voice, the rough urgency of his hands, and realized with a shock of relief that he did still care about me at least a little bit and the protest went unspoken.

Throughout the visit to emergency, I observed Heero as surreptitiously but closely as possible. More than once in that time, I saw him raise a hand as if to touch me - to steady or to comfort? - only to withdraw it, fingers clenching tightly. Saw the flicker of something - jealousy, maybe? - that crossed his face when a nurse flirted with me. Heard the hint of unspoken concern in his almost clinical query to the doctor about the possibility of nerve or tendon damage.

I wasn't sure exactly what was going through Heero's head - whether he was still angry with me over my secrecy or whether he was feeling guilty over our sexual encounter - but by the time I'd been stitched up, dosed up, and sent home, I was pretty certain that he still cared, at least a little. And that he still wanted me.

The question was - what was I going to do about it?

I had three choices really. Do nothing - just let things keep going the way they were and hope that everything would work itself out eventually. Confront him. Or seduce him.

The seduction option didn't even rate serious consideration. Even if I had a damn clue how to go about doing such a thing, it would be an incredibly dumb move. He was already mad at me for my lie of omission, any attempt at deviousness or manipulation would only make things worse.

Doing nothing held a certain appeal and if I'd been certain that things would gradually get better, I'd have probably been content to wait. But I wasn't certain and I really didn't want to risk waiting. If Heero was holding back because he felt guilty about hurting me, continued inaction on my part might lead him to the false conclusion that I'd lost interest in him because of what had happened. Then he might decide to just cut his losses and move on. No, I couldn't run the risk of doing nothing.

That left confronting Heero. With all of its own ugly possibilities for going wrong, it remained the only really honest option. The one most likely to convince him that I wouldn't lie - not even by omission - to him ever again.

The one most likely to persuade him to give a relationship between us a chance.

***

I didn't jump right into a confrontation the minute we got home. It was getting pretty late by then and we were going to have to be up early in the morning. I'd been scheduled to make a series of short-hop delivery runs over the next few days and, with the state my hand was in, that wasn't going to be happening. Heero would have to pilot instead and that meant we'd need to be at the office early so that I could go over the delivery schedule and flight plans with him. It was definitely not an appropriate time to be broaching a stressful topic such as the current state of our relationship.

But once those days were over and Heero was back from the last delivery run, I didn't allow myself to put things off any longer. It was time to settle things between us, one way or the other.

I waited till after supper, when we both moved to the livingroom to watch the evening news. Instead of sprawling on the couch while Heero took the chair, I sat at one end of it and motioned for Heero to take the other. He did, albeit with a certain degree of hesitation.

I left the TV turned off. "Heero, we need to talk..." I began carefully. There just didn't seem to be any way to avoid using some variation on those ominous-sounding words as an opening. Heero tensed and I was pretty sure he was wishing he was someplace, anyplace, else at that moment. I certainly was.

"Duo..."

I laid one hand carefully on Heero's arm. "Please, Heero. This is important." He subsided, still looking very uneasy. "I still... I still love you," I blurted out. "I'm still in love with you. I screwed things up, I know that, and I'll understand if you've - lost interest - but I just need to know where we stand. If you want to just - forget about what happened between us, pretend that it never took place, try to go back to just being friends..." I swallowed hard and pressed on grimly but honestly, "...well, it's not what I'd prefer. But if that's what you really want, I'll try. I just - don't want this limbo to go on forever. I need to know where things stand."

Heero was very still and hard to read as I spoke. In a very detached, almost disinterested tone he asked, "What would you prefer?"

"For us to try again," I answered promptly. "We both have a better idea what we're doing now; I'd like to m..." I stumbled over the words, abruptly aware that "make love" really wasn't accurate; Heero had never mentioned love even before our entire relationship went to hell. "...to h-have sex again and do it the right way this time." He was still silent and thoughtful; there was no sign of him rejecting my words. Greatly daring, I added, "And... not just for one night." I stopped there, not wanting to push too hard. I waited nervously as Heero turned a steady, evaluating gaze on me.

After a few incredibly long minutes, Heero nodded slightly to himself. "Are you sure?"

"Yes." I put as much conviction as I could muster into that response. More conviction than I really felt. Maybe this would make things worse, not better, but I had to take the chance. I couldn't live with the way things were right now.

Slowly, he moved towards me, giving me plenty of time to change my mind before he pulled me into a kiss that grew deeper and hungrier and more possessive with every heartbeat. Just like before, I surrendered to his possession willingly.

But this time was very different from the last. There was no anger in Heero's passion. In his touch or in his kisses. And while both hunger and urgency *were* present, Heero kept them tightly leashed. Nothing was rough or rushed or painful.

Instead, Heero took his time, his hands and mouth driving me half mad with desire. Taking me to the edge again and again. Bringing the passion between us to blazing intensity.

I was begging and writhing with need by the time that he finally took me. Took me and sent me over the edge into mind-shattering release.

But once again, although he stayed and held me until I fell asleep, I woke in the morning to a cold, empty bed and doubts that coiled and curdled in my gut.

Over the following days and weeks, I learned to live with the doubts as Heero returned to my bed again and again. As he kissed me and held me and allowed me to cuddle with him on the couch in front of the TV. What we had wasn't even close to what I'd once dreamed of, wasn't quite what I'd dared to hope for when Heero first started flirting with me - but it was better than nothing. And, at times, when he was touching me so gently and carefully or simply holding me close and warm I could, for a while, pretend that it was enough.

I just wished that I could convince Heero to try spending the entire night with me. To try sharing my bed. Waking up with me in the morning. Admittedly, we'd only had to share a bed a few times during the war but it had never been an issue then. But Heero was so paranoid about the whole chokehold thing that had been such a problem with Relena that he wouldn't even consider it. And maybe he was right not to. Because things weren't the same as they had been back then. Because, during the war, he'd trusted me. And now - I wasn't so sure about that. Maybe my secrecy, my lie of omission, had damaged that trust beyond repair. Beyond the point where we could safely share a bed. Maybe.

But sometimes, in my darkest moments, I wondered whether fear of hurting me in his sleep really had anything to do with his refusal to stay or if it was just a convenient excuse. Wondered whether maybe he just didn't want to cross that line between sex with a willing body and something more.

Whether maybe me waking up alone was a reminder that, when all was said and done, it was just sex.

Despite the fact that our friendship hadn't been the same since my confession - since the first time that we'd had sex - Heero was actually very considerate and passionate in bed. I really couldn't see what the hell Relena had spent so damn much time complaining about. He was a wonderful lov... sex partner and I didn't think that was only because I didn't have anything to compare him to. He was tender and creative and very, very thorough. He'd learned what turned me on, what turned me off, what drove me completely out of my mind. He could reduce me to incoherent pleas with only a few touches, bring me to climax in minutes, or draw foreplay out for hours.

But great as our sex life had turned out to be, our friendship was far from great. Hell, it wasn't even *okay*. We never talked about anything important or spent time together that wasn't either work- or sex-related. That - hurt. As wonderful as having Heero as my lov... my *sex partner* was, I missed the old Heero. The Heero who'd been my best friend. And I really wished that I could have both.

But in real life wishes were about as useful as a sword in a gun battle and I *could* have ended up with no Heero in my life at all. I was just going to have to learn to be grateful for what I had, even if it wasn't quite what I really wanted. Even if I would have gratefully traded the hot sex with the skillful but distant sex partner that I now had for the comfortable companionship of the best friend that I'd lost.

Heero tolerated my cuddling on the couch but made no attempt to encourage that sort of casual intimacy in our lives; we'd been closer - more *intimate* - as best friends than we now were. I was very much afraid that I'd completely blown his trust in me by keeping my love a secret for so long. I was trying to make up for that now. I didn't even try not to gasp it out while in the throes of passion. Sometimes I even told Heero that I loved him when we *weren't* having sex. But no matter when or where I said it, the result was always the same. Heero would go perfectly still for a moment, then continue with whatever he was doing as if I hadn't said a thing.

I was careful not to think too closely about the fact that Heero had still never reciprocated my words of love.

And I tried not to dwell on the increasing likelihood that he never would.

*****************************